Global Leadership Blog

The Intercultural Communication Challenges of Skype Meetings

The Intercultural Communication Challenges of Skype Meetings

My intercultural business clients often enlist my aid to help them improve their Skype meetings. They count on me to provide them with a unique perspective on intercultural communication and want to hear my views about why it is so difficult and dissatisfying for them. From my perspective, the difficulty and dissatisfaction of using Skype to conduct meetings in an intercultural context is not due to the most obvious reasons.

We all know there are technical issues. Depending on the speed of the connections, coupled with the video and audio capabilities of the webcams and microphones, the display and the audio can cut in and out, and can be difficult to hear or visualize. There can be maddening lags, freezes, crashes and any number of unexpected glitches, all of which play havoc with even the most carefully organized meetings. These are not a big issue when using Skype for conversations within our private lives. But even when things go perfectly on the technical side of things within a business context, there are issues that need to be addressed for ensuring successful intercultural meetings.

For example, every language has a tempo. By that I mean, how quickly people speak, how long a time they leave between one sentence and the next, and how long they wait before responding to someone else’s words, varies. In the French language there is typically a slight overlap at the end of a spoken sentence; the next speaker begins before the other has finished. In English, in North America at least, we pause slightly to signal that it’s the other person’s turn to speak. In the Japanese language there are substantially longer pauses between one speaker and another. Such subtle differences can be found in all languages.

This is what I call the tempo, or rhythm, of a language. When the French or Japanese speak English, they bring their rhythms with them. Anglophones who learn other languages maintain their native tempo, as well. I encounter this phenomenon every day with my intercultural clients, accustomed as I am to observing such things. So I can easily understand how these different rhythms cause problems during intercultural Skype meetings, because when there is even the smallest lag during such sessions, our rhythms get disrupted.

When you are speaking your native language, such things are easily overcome. However, when you’re speaking a foreign language, each time you face such a disruption you become distracted from what you were in the middle of saying or hearing. The larger the number of cultures participating in the Skype meeting, the more complicated it becomes. Why?

How Easily Can You Multitask in Your Mind?

What is rarely acknowledged is that when we are speaking our native languages, we are able to multitask in our minds. We listen easily, formulate what we are going to say next, think about what we’re going to have for lunch, generate opinions about the others around us, notice the air temperature in the room, and so on. So what’s another minor distraction like lag?

Simply this. When you are using a second language, it’s impossible to multitask in your mind to the same degree; you have to focus more on listening. So if you don’t hear part of a sentence, then understanding suffers. If you’re distracted by that lack of understanding, it’s then more difficult for you to formulate what you want to say next. And even if you are able to formulate what to say next, the rhythm you are used to is disrupted and you are unsure of when to add a comment or question.

Furthermore, even if you are able to make sense of the partial sentences you’re hearing, can formulate what to say next and jump in at just the right time, there’s the next trap waiting for you. This is the biggest stumbling block for many of my clients: you see yourself while speaking a foreign language. As one client candidly told me, “That is a sight I’d rather not see!”

It’s easier to convince yourself when speaking in person to others that your accent isn’t so bad and the way you form the unfamiliar sounds of a second language doesn’t look weird to your listeners. (Indeed, how many of you who speak a second language dislike leaving a phone message because you don’t want your voice to be recorded in English? I know I prefer not doing so in French.) When using Skype you have to watch yourself looking uncomfortable and unsure while trying to construct a coherent message in another language within a technically challenging context. Frankly, all of us have to have nerves of steel to get through it. As a result, many Skype meetings are conducted without any video. It’s common in such cases to use slow Internet connection speeds as an excuse. But I wonder when I hear that whether it’s not more about a sense of self dignity that we are trying to defend.

Skype is not the villain here. Instead, it simply amplifies things that all of us working within intercultural situations in a language other than our native one face every day. This can result in some uncomfortable conversations but as I say to my clients, “Discomfort goes with the territory.” In turn, they tell me what a relief it is to discuss these issues of difficulty and discomfort so openly. They are rarely discussed at the office, where everyone simply pretends to be confident and comfortable during such meetings, with varying degrees of success.

When this fact of intercultural business communication is finally out in the open, the burden of pretending is lifted. Suddenly everyone can agree about just how awkward it is to function effectively in a foreign language when using Skype. That openness inspires people to be more patient and helpful, and less judgmental of one another. A shift in attitude, along with improved intercultural communication skills, not just an improvement in technology, is what it’s going to take to meet the unprecedented challenges of communicating globally across cultures online.

This post first appeared on sherwoodfleming.com Sherwood Fleming is an intercultural communication seminar leader and author of Dance of Opinions.

Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson

PRIVACY POLICY

What information do we collect?

We collect information from you when you place an order, subscribe to our newsletter, respond to a survey or fill out a form.
When ordering or registering on our site, as appropriate, you may be asked to enter your: name, e-mail address, mailing address, phone number or credit card information. You may, however, visit our site anonymously.

Like most websites, we use cookies and/or web beacons to enhance your experience, gather general visitor information, and track visits to our website. Please refer to the ‘do we use cookies?’ section below for information about cookies and how we use them.


What do we use your information for?

Any of the information we collect from you may be used in one of the following ways:

 

. To personalize your experience (your information helps us to better respond to your individual needs)
. To improve our website (we continually strive to improve our website offerings based on the information and feedback we receive from you)
. To improve customer service (your information helps us to more effectively respond to your customer service requests and support needs)
. To process transactions . Your information, whether public or private, will not be sold, exchanged, transferred, or given to any other company for any reason whatsoever, without your consent, other than for the express purpose of delivering the purchased product or service requested.
. To administer a contest, promotion, survey or other site feature
. To send periodic emails

 

The email address you provide for order processing, may be used to send you information and updates pertaining to your order, in addition to receiving occasional company news, updates, related product or service information, etc.

Note: If at any time you would like to unsubscribe from receiving future emails, we include detailed unsubscribe instructions at the bottom of each email.


How do we protect your information?

We implement a variety of security measures to maintain the safety of your personal information when you place an order or access your personal information.
We offer the use of a secure server. All supplied sensitive/credit information is transmitted via Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology and then encrypted into our Payment gateway providers database only to be accessible by those authorized with special access rights to such systems, and are required to keep the information confidential.

After a transaction, your private information (credit cards, social security numbers, financials, etc.) will not be stored on our servers.


Do we use cookies?

Yes (Cookies are small files that a site or its service provider transfers to your computers hard drive through your Web browser (if you allow) that enables the sites or service providers systems to recognize your browser and capture and remember certain information.

We use cookies to help us remember and process the items in your shopping cart and compile aggregate data about site traffic and site interaction so that we can offer better site experiences and tools in the future. We may contract with third-party service providers to assist us in better understanding our site visitors. These service providers are not permitted to use the information collected on our behalf except to help us conduct and improve our business.

If you prefer, you can choose to have your computer warn you each time a cookie is being sent, or you can choose to turn off all cookies via your browser settings. Like most websites, if you turn your cookies off, some of our services may not function properly. However, you can still place orders over the telephone.


Do we disclose any information to outside parties?

We do not sell, trade, or otherwise transfer to outside parties your personally identifiable information. This does not include trusted third parties who assist us in operating our website, conducting our business, or servicing you, so long as those parties agree to keep this information confidential. We may also release your information when we believe release is appropriate to comply with the law, enforce our site policies, or protect ours or others rights, property, or safety. However, non-personally identifiable visitor information may be provided to other parties for marketing, advertising, or other uses.


Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Compliance

We are in compliance with the requirements of COPPA (Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act), we do not collect any information from anyone under 13 years of age. Our website, products and services are all directed to people who are at least 13 years old or older.


Your Consent

By using our site, you consent to our privacy policy.


Changes to our Privacy Policy

If we decide to change our privacy policy, we will post those changes on this page.


Contacting Us

If there are any questions regarding this privacy policy you may contact us via moc.g1524782874nitlu1524782874snocn1524782874osmal1524782874@ofni1524782874.